Dr. Steven Howe identified an antimatter niche for the acceleration of small unmanned interstellar probes. Small amounts of antimatter can be used to initiate fission events whose daughters provided thrust.
* use a dedicated customer $670 million accelerator to produce 10 grams of antimatter per year
* form the antiprotons into antihydrogen and coat it with antilithium to stabilize it and make storage last for decades
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Dr. Howe has conceptual solutions and a roadmap for what appear to be a reasonable path to the development of antimatter production, antimatter storage and an eventual antimatter catalyzed fission propulsion system.
One gram of matter-antimatter reaction is about 21.5 kilotons of TNT which is about the same as the Nagasaki atomic bomb. (0.5 grams of antimatter with 0.5 grams of matter). 20 grams of antimatter and 20 grams of matter is about 1 megaton.
The Howe concept has been improved by focusing all fission daughters into a coherent exhaust stream, thereby reducing the amount of antimatter needed and enabling spacecraft velocities as high as 0.1c.
Howe has a plan for producing antimatter at a rate of 10 grams /year with accompanying cost estimate has been developed. Given that the maximum exhaust velocity of fission daughters is only 0.046c, a spacecraft velocity of 0.1c requires 33g of antimatter for every kilogram of spacecraft dry mass. If the spacecraft velocity were reduced to 0.05c the amount of needed antimatter drops to 8g.
The first step was to critically evaluate antimatter-based propulsion in light of the rocket equation, which pointed to the induction of fission as the most efficient use of antimatter.
The second step was to identify a particle accelerator architecture coupled with a focusing system that mixed antimatter with depleted uranium while simultaneously allowing both fission daughters to escape into the focused exhaust stream.
The third step was to generate an unmanned scientific Proxima Centauri mission profile that decelerates and orbits Proxima b, returning data for decades.
The fourth step was to generate a plan to synthesis antimatter at the rate needed to enable such a mission.
The propulsion concept is based on experimentally validated accelerator and particle physics experience: TRL 3. Enhanced antimatter production consistent with a Proxima Centauri mission is a large extrapolation of experimental work performed at several laboratories: TRL 4.
The critical path is demonstrating enhanced antimatter production rates. An experimental program has been developed.
Generate a technical design report for the first enhanced antimatter production experiment validating technology and production costs.
Interstellar antimatter-based propulsion at 0.1c and kilogram-scale is feasible and experimentally validated. Demonstration of economic feasibility is required.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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